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Saturday, July 31, 2010

ETA at Royals, Sandy Bay - approx 3:00pm (if not a fraction sooner!)

Hobart, here we come!

By the time we anchored last night at Chinaman's Bay, Maria Island, we had about 2 hours to get some sleep before we had to be up and making our way to the entrance of the Narrows in order to get the rising tide. At least it was a still, calm, relaxing 2 hours.

7am we were off, excited at the thought of getting home but a bit nervous about the possibility of running aground! To give you some idea of the depths and widths, at one stage we had pelicans standing on a sandbar to our right and an oyster farm on our left, neither of which require deep water...


Oyster farm

Stu took the helm and Barney and I kept a keen watch for the channel markers. You may remember that our cockpit depth sounder stopped working when it filled with water at Fanning Island, so part of my job was to dash downstairs and call out the depth readings from the chart table depth sounder then rush back up to help keep watch. Luck was on our side and the markers were accurate so we had no problems. 

Entrance to the Narrows

Ariel coming through
(note the stylish lump of seaweed attached to the anchor at the bow!)

Coming through we were reminded of what a beautiful place Tassie is! We've seen some great places but Tasmania can really hold its own on the world stage whan it comes to scenic locations. Even the Dunalley marina looked lovely!

Once through the Narrows we headed for Denison Canal. This was also quite narrow and with a strong tide running against us is was quite an effort to keep the boat on course and in the centre of the canal. We could see the bottom on both sides of the boat and had no desires to touch - particularly because we would have had an audience of people on the bank as well as the traffic that had to stop so the canal bridge could be opened to let us through.

Ariel in the canal

Ariel coming through the open canal bridge

As tradition (and courtesy) dictate, we dropped our offering of a few cans of beer and a few dollars in to the bridge operator's bucket...

 I'm guessing this guy doesn't pay for too many of his own drinks!

Through the canal and there it was - Mt Wellington, that mountain that looms over Hobart and can be seen from pretty much anywhere. Once we saw that we knew we were nearly home - a real mix of emotions knowing that the journey is nearly over but knowing that home and friends (and Squirrel!) are so close!.

Right now we have just passed Clifton Beach and are motoring on our way to the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania (Marieville Esplanade, Sandy Bay). At this stage we're hoping to get in at around 5:00pm (but could be 4; could be 6...will keep you all posted) - I can't wait!

Bass Strait

Bass Strait - pffttt...piece of cake - I don't know what people complain about!

We had a dream run from Eden - the wind swung North East so was pushing us along nicely and the swell was relatively small. We were cruising along at about 6 to 7 knots and had no problems. That said, once we were close to Tassie and could hear the weather reports on the VHF it was confirmed (as we had suspected) that if we had left even a day later we probably would have gone through some pretty rough weather. Thank goodness we decided not to stay a night in Eden! As they say, timing is everything!

To add to the enjoyment of the passage, we had another person for conversation and got double the amount of sleep we would normally get overnight. It's amazing how refreshing four hours of sleep feels when you're used to only getting two - bliss!

Finally, there it was - Tasmania!

This thin little line of land caused a lot of excitement!

At this stage we were undecided as to whether we would go through the Narrows and the Denison Canal or go around the bottom of Tassie. The Narrows can be a navigational nightmare as they are very shallow in places and the sand moves so there's no guarantee that the marked path is deep enough. Going around the bottom would of course eliminate that problem, but it would add about 50 miles to the trip and could be rough. Needless to say I voted for the Narrows! In the end we decided on the Narrows and the Canal, and headed for Maria Island, on the East coast, where we would anchor for a few hours until high tide before we tackled the passage.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Port Stephens to Eden

We are about 5 miles from Eden, after a trip from Port Stephens that was very different to the conditions we had coming from Coffs Harbour. Rather than bashing in to strong headwinds and big swell, we had very little wind and relatively flat water. Again we had to motor the whole way due to the lack of wind but with the better conditions we were able to travel at a decent speed and have made good time.

We received a call from a friend (Andrew Balmforth, aka Barney) while we were in Coffs, wanting to know if he could join us on the trip from Sydney to Hobart. We like the idea of an extra pair of hands to cross Bass Strait, plus an extra person to do dreaded night watches therefore giving us more sleep, and he is very keen. I hope he knows what he’s getting himself in to! Of course, we didn’t end up stopping at Sydney so he has made a mammoth trip to get to Eden - flying to Sydney, train to Canberra and bus to Eden. As I said, he’s pretty keen! He’s already been a huge help, ringing us to say that he’s arranged somewhere for us to tie up at Eden wharf and arranging a fuel truck.

Barney came prepared!

At this stage we’re planning on getting in, refueling and restocking, having a decent feed and a shower and heading off again. The weather is pretty good at the moment and we don’t want to waste it. In my opinion, the sooner we cross Bass Strait the better! Knowing that it is one of the worse stretches of water in the world, and we’re crossing it in winter, has me expecting a pretty revolting trip but it can’t be bad all of the time so I’ve got a faint glimmer of hope that we’ll get lucky and have a great crossing.

Less than 400 miles to Hobart…

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Detour to Port Stephens

Battling South in 30 knot (plus gusts of up to 50) southerly winds with a huge swell is not easy and not at all nice... Unfortunately it seems that no remedies are helping with the sea sickness these days either, so that definitely detracts from any enjoyment I may have of the sailing! We had no chance to even get the sails up and so we were motoring all the way. 240 miles to Sydney should have taken about 2 days but the headwind meant that we were only travelling at about 2 knots. On Wednesday night we started to run low on diesel - which we realised when the engine spluttered and died (the fuel gague doesn't work...). We spent the next half hour putting more diesel in to the tank (filling the tank in that weather meant that we wore most of it...) and trying to start the engine which would start then stop again after a few seconds as the tank and lines had run completely dry. Eventually we got the fuel flowing properly and the engine started again. A quick fuel vs. miles calculation and we decided to make a slight detour to Port Stephens for sanity and refuelling.

Port Stephens is a nice little town - and we finally got the pub meal that we've been craving for so long! We've also been enjoying a warm boat for once now that we have attached an extension cord to the shore power allowing us to run a fan heater. What luxury!

Pelican Parade
Nelson Bay Marina

We're heading off again today (Sunday 25/7) as the winds finally look to be more favourable over the next few days. We probably won't stop in Sydney now (unfortunately...) but will go straight through to Eden where we'll wait until we get reasonable conditions to cross Bass Strait. The trip to Eden should hopefully only take about 3 days, so all going well we will arrive late Wednesday or early Thursday, but as we've shown many times on ths trip there are a lot of variables and so we will have to take what we can get!
Next stop (hopefully!!) - Eden!

Friday, July 23, 2010

22/07/10 - A message from Rich (Stu's Brother)

Hi everyone,

Just a quick note to say that Kym and Stu are at Nelson Bay waiting for the weather to improve before pressing on. After a few days of head winds and large Southerly seas, they made the decision to head for shelter rather than continuing when the conditions were so uncomfortable and progress was slow. With any luck the weather will improve on Saturday and make for a more suitable passage.



Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Big Banana

When we suggested that they could come and visit us, we didn’t realise that the trip was 4 hours each way...But to our delight some friends from Hobart, who now live in Brisbane, decided to come and visit us here in Coffs Harbour. Kel and Andrew gave us a taste of normality again (well, ‘normality’ could be argued...) , and a taste of home, and we commemorated the occasion with a visit to The Big Banana!

‘The Big Banana – it’s a whole bunch of FUN!’
(Promises, promises...)

Yes, yes, I know it’s “bigger than most bananas, plus probably bigger than what you have been living in for 6 months” (thanks for pointing that out JK...) but I was imagining a colossal structure that would awe me with its mammoth proportions! But I guess that yes, it is a big banana, as far as bananas go...

And I guess there aren’t many banana that you can walk through, either...

The gift shop was filled with all thing banana-ry (it's amazing what you can give a banana theme to!!) and the cafe full of all things banana flavoured. Lucky we like bananas.... We settled for banana fritters with ice-cream (yes, banana ice-cream):

(tasted better than it looks, particularly once all the cream had been scraped off!!)

and the failsafe banana lollies

Banana cheers!!

Once we were all banana'd out we went for a bit of a cruise around Coffs (in a car! What a novelty!!) and finished up back at the marina where Stu and Andrew indulged in some fresh oysters from the local fish market.

Thanks again, Kel and Andrew, for driving so far to see us! We really appreciate it and it was lovely to see you :)

Wednesday 14th July 2010

We collapsed in to bed last night after filling our bellies with a fantastic antipasto platter, chilli calamari and chocolate crème brulee, however with the forecast gales hitting as predicted and the wind howling through the rigging of all the boats in the marina we didn’t sleep very well . We woke up hideously early – about 5:30am – but were treated to yet another speccy sunrise plus some impressive spray over the breakwater. We were very glad that we weren’t out in it last night.

The best beach we've seen in 6 months

We filled our day finding the world's best hambrger shop, doing our laundry and wandering up to the supermarket. The supermarket! We couldn't believe how wonderful that little IGA was after all the rubbish shops we've seen! We are really very lucky to live in a country that has such good quality food - a great range and no shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables, and healthier options just about everywhere you look. Cereal without added sugar, fancy that! Yoghurt made simply from milk, fruit and live cultures without a long list of numbers and chemicals, can you believe it? Fresh milk without anything added (in the US the milk has added sugar, and once we left mainland USA it was long-life milk everywhere) - who would have thought? Bread that actually has to be chewed and doesn't just dissolve in your mouth due to all the added rubbish and, once again, all the added sugar. Imagine! Lean meat, RECOGNISABLE meat!

We're also loving being in a clean place that doesn't smell of sewage, isn't covered in rubbish, doesn't have beggars and winos sitting on the street and where we always feel safe.

As much as it is sprouted around and sounds like a load of guff, we really do live in the lucky country. This trip has really reiterated that for us and we hope that we will no longer take it for granted. We love Australia  :)

Noumea to Coffs Harbour

That good old quote ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ was obviously written about this trip... I seem to recall writing some tripe in Noumea about the weather being nice and having a good feeling about this trip. The good feeling disappeared as we motored out of the harbour in the cold, wet, grey weather but I was living in hope that it would all be fine if I just stayed positive!

We had decent wind, however it seemed to be blowing straight from Coffs Harbour. Of course we can’t sail directly in to a head wind so our course, which in the past has sat right on the rhomb line, was up and down and all over the place. No, we weren’t hand-steering unsuccessfully as some have queried – we just couldn’t set a direct course! The swells were massive and it was cold; not a pleasant start. I also recall singing the praises of the sea sickness wristband that I wore on the trip from Fiji to Noumea. I don’t really want to take that back...let’s just suggest that if I hadn’t been wearing it maybe I would have thrown up 20 times instead of 10. In the end I was eating simply so I had something in my stomach to get rid of an hour later. Eventually Stu insisted I take a tablet and I zonked out for about 12 hours while Stu treated that time as if he was single-handing. I felt terrible when I eventually came to and realised that I had been sleeping for so long – I was convinced that I’d only had my two hours sleep and was ready to do my next watch. It was worth it though as I felt 100% better and was able to function much more successfully.

Within a day or two the weather improved – the wind eased, the sun came out and we were back to shorts and t-shirts, enjoying sitting in sun in the cockpit with a book. You can have too much of a good thing, however, and in this case the weather calmed until we had no wind. The water was flat – not even a ripple at times, and definitely not enough wind to give us our planned 120 miles per day (we work on that number but generally do a bit more) to get us to Coffs in 6 or 7 days. We were making very slow progress of 60 or 70 miles a day, and one day we only achieved 44 miles. A couple of nights we took the sails down and drifted – there was no point exhausting ourselves even more by sitting up and trying to steer all night when we were only making 1.5 – 2 knots.

At least, I hear you say, we had the autohelm fixed in Noumea. At least that was working! Yes – the autohelm worked perfectly well for the entire trip. Unfortunately by day four the engine didn’t....which meant that we couldn’t run it to charge the batteries....which meant that we didn’t have enough power to run the now-working autohelm.... You guessed it – hand steering! How frustrating to know that the autohelm worked perfectly but we couldn’t use it! On top of that, the inability to charge batteries meant that we needed to conserve the power that we had in order to run the chart plotter when we got close to Coffs to navigate the approach and entry to the harbour and marina. This meant that we had to turn everything off so we had no autohelm, chart plotter, navigation lights (or lights of any kind) or fridge and had minimal water pressure, VHF use, bilge pump, etc. Obviously we could flick the batteries on in order to have short stints of power to enable us to cook and to get water, etc, but the power hungry things were kept off. Where we would usually have the chart plotter on showing us our position and course (follow the pink line – easy!!) we now had to mark our position on the paper chart using a handheld GPS. Not a major inconvenience, but I have to admit that I like to see the little picture of the boat and our course on the chart plotter – it’s like proof that we’re actually ‘somewhere’ rather than feeling like we’re just bobbing around aimlessly. Where are we? I don’t know exactly but look, you can see us on the chart plotter so we’re obviously somewhere, and heading in the right direction for our destination along the pink line.

We were also limited with food. We had enough, however we had been unable to refill our gas bottles in Noumea so we were unsure just how much gas we had left. Based on previous consumption we were pretty sure we’d get two weeks out of it, but if our calculations were incorrect it would mean cold food until Coffs, plus with the lack of wind our trip could well take two weeks! We played it safe and meals consisted of whatever took the least amount of time to heat up – lots of tinned soup, baked beans and 2-minute noodles...

We both agreed that this was by far the worst sailing leg of the trip...’the worst of times’... Then, on day 9, after what felt like the longest and most exhausting night time steering session of the whole trip from California, we realised that we only had about 70 miles to go! Five hours later, after much squinting at the horizon, there it was – the Australian coast – ‘the best of times’!

35 miles from Australia
(Trust me, there is land on the horizon!!)

About 15 miles away

You have no idea how exciting that first sighting was! All land sightings after being at sea are great, but this one was by far the best. This was our country, which we hadn’t seen for almost 6 months! This was being so close to our friends and family! This was coming home! Suddenly the day was brighter, our mood was happier and even steering was no longer a chore as I belted out the national anthem (yes, both verses!) and ‘I Still Call Australia Home’, much to Stu’s amusement.

Steering us home!

This last 35 miles was the longest – being able to see our destination but knowing that we were still 5 hours away (provided the wind didn’t die out again) was torture, although it was made so much more bearable by the fact that my phone picked up a signal and we were on the Australian map

We’d seen some whales spraying earlier, and suddenly Stu called for me to come up and have a look because we were following a couple of whales! Stu’s eyesight isn’t all that wonderful (either that or the light wasn’t very good – ha!) and as soon as I saw them I realised that rather than following them they were coming straight for us. Of course whales are highly intelligent creatures so they would know to avoid us, but just in case we had stumbled across the duds of the species we steered around them and the two humpbacks came past us about 10 metres from the boat. Wow. They were absolutely massive! Their backs were hardly breaking the surface of the water and the bit we saw was still a good 2 – 3 feet wide! An awesome moment, but also a little scary... one flick of their tail... Typically the camera was downstairs.

We also had a couple of dolphins leaping around the boat. We have seen a lot on the trip, mainly in the US, and compared to the US dolphins, which were rather small and stumpy, these were huge! I’d put my money on an Aussie (bottlenose, I guess) dolphin VS an American dolphin in a showdown, that’s for sure!

As we got closer the weather deteriorated, as did our mood... We were listening to the weather warnings on the VHF giving us gale warnings and predicting big waves, and we could see the clouds coming in and the rain threatening. We were still about 12 miles away and were starting to stress about the weather and the fact that we had no engine. These factors, plus the excitement of getting to Australia, plus the lack of sleep made for relatively short fuses but a good old argument seems to be part of our routine for getting in to a port!

Luckily for us Stu’s parents had reached Coffs ahead of us, with the luxury of being able to motor through the lulls, and we called them to arrange for them to bring the dinghy out and tow us in to the marina. We finally came through the harbour mouth at about 5:30pm – just on dusk – with the swell and winds building, and out came our ‘rescue’ dinghy with Max and Richard, who had told us that he was starting work again on July 2nd in Sydney but apparently that didn’t eventuate... It was a surprise to see him here but nice to catch up again. So far we’ve met up with him at every port except for Noumea and usually he arrives the day before we are planning to leave. They tied the dinghy to the side of Pelon and in we motored, to be greeted by 4 or 5 guys at the marina berth who did a brilliant job of stopping us before we hit the end of the berth (no motor = no speed control and no reverse to slow us down!).

To our surprise (and appreciation!) the Customs guys had waited for us to arrive so that they could clear us in straight away which would allow us to get off the boat for food and showers. Thankyou!! The process took about 45 minutes as we filled out forms and had all of our cupboards checked for food and products that are not allowed to be brought in. To their credit they did a fantastic job. All countries have their restrictions and at all ports we have been asked what supplies we have on board, but the Aussies were the only people who actually bothered to check and to do the job properly. For all the signs and warnings you see around airports and on TV telling us not to bring pests in to the country, it’s nice to know that it’s not just lip service and Customs and Quarantine are actually doing a great job of keeping nasties out of the country.

Safely in and finally off the boat we headed over to Stu’s parents for a lovely hot shower before heading up to the yacht club for a much anticipated meal. After our diet over the last few days needless to say we didn’t order the soup of the day...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Goodbye Noumea, Hello Australia!!

We're leaving Noumea today (in about 1 hour actually), heading for Coffs Harbour. We're expecting the trip to take about 7 days. The weather looks good, we feel good about the trip (unlike last time when I had a bad feeling about it, and look what happened...) and we're keen to get going.

We had a look on board Plastiki while we were here – it’s surprisingly big inside! Mind you I’m sure it would shrink drastically with 7 people onboard – Pelon does that with only two of us. The bunks look quite cozy and it has a real homely feel about it.

Looking aft from the cockpit door



They have also been able to get their garden going again, now that the weather is cooler. It would be fantastic to be able to have ready access to fresh vegetables at sea.

Port Moselle marina has been a great place to stay.

Pelon is the second boat along

It has a nice feel to it, and is close to markets and shops – we are never far from a pastry or a crusty baguette!

Mmmmm - fresh baguette...

865 miles to Coffs harbour - next post from Australia!

Saturday, July 3, 2010


We ate quite well at Fanning Island...

...but I think Mike and Kirsten ate better...


(Thanks for sending the photos through Mike!)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Thursday 1st July 2010

We had hoped to leave yesterday, however time gets away and weather windows – which are more important in these last few legs as we are coming in to an Australian winter (I don’t think winter in the tropical Pacific counts the same way!!) – come and go. Plastiki arrived in Noumea a couple of days ago and after talking to them about the advice given to them by their weather router we have decided that Saturday is the day to leave. Our auto helm is fixed (new fluxgate compass, as suspected), our anchor winch is too far gone and can not be fixed (but has been removed, leaving a hole in the hull that I didn’t need to know about), our macerator pump has finally, FINALLY been replaced (no more using the aft head which isn’t wonderfully reliably, or worse still using a bucket!) and we will reprovision tomorrow and be on our merry way.

Tonight we are going out for tea with some of the crew from Plastiki (Jo, Skipper; David, Co-Skipper; and Max, camera man filming for National Geographic - keep an eye out for the finished piece!!), which should be good fun. We feel sorry for them – we are expecting a 6 or 7 day passage from here to Coffs harbour; they are looking at around two weeks!


Tea was fantastic. Apologies to those who are after some food porn - it looked so good that we started eating before we thought to take the obligatory photo.We ordered through Max's translation of the menu - a close call for Stu who thought he would have the hearty venison kebabs before Max suddenly realised that it was actually venison heart kebabs... Stu promptly changed his order! (Dave White and Bruce - I told Stu that you would be very disappointed). A really great evening with fun company, good wine and awesome food. Maybe we could stay just a little longer...


Ah, the pastries, the pâté, the meats and deli items, the desserts!
Food that we only dream of at sea, and unlike any food we have seen for the last few months!

Crème Brulee
(The general consensus was that Max makes a better one, however I think Stu is just keeping his crème brulee options open for when we get home...)

(so good that I could overlook the revolting piles of spray cream...)

There is a market right next to the marina where we go each morning. Just to look, of course, and to absorb the sights and smells...

Of course it would be rude to just stand and stare at all of the delicacies without purchasing something... And it IS our last hurrah before setting sail again and then hitting the Australian coast where we will be only a week or so from home and back to normality...

(and people are asking me whether we have lost weight or put on weight on this trip... I’ll leave that to your imagination...and just add that we are blissfully living in gluttonous sin...)

(if your initials are JK or RK please disregard that last bit...)

Suva to Noumea

We left Suva on June 18th – a Friday, much to our concern, as leaving on a Friday is supposed to be bad luck for sailing. Not being suspicious, however, and wanting to get to Noumea we left on a lovely sunny day. Well, whatever were we worried about? The weather was lovely, albeit a bit cool at night (we had to put the doona back on the bed and wear trackies on night watch), and the sailing was the nicest we have had on the whole trip to date! Added to that, I had borrowed a motion sickness wristband from Stu’s brother (by the way – Richard, I borrowed your motion sickness wristband...), which he had left on Stu’s parent’s boat, and what a change it made! Usually I feel quite revolting on day one and sometimes day two, to the point where I have to take a tablet that makes me feel very drowsy (or risk throwing up numerous times, as happened on a previous leg when I decided to see whether I could cope without taking one... turns out the answer’s no...) and leaves me pretty pathetic and helpless for a while. This band delivers an electrical current of varying strength which I could barely feel (except occasionally when my little finger took on a life of its own when the current obviously hit a nerve!!). Wearing this band I had NO nausea at all, and felt absolutely 100%. I even had no problems cooking tea, which I can never usually do on the first night and even after that I have to come up for air regularly. All I can say is that if you suffer from motion sickness then invest in one of these bands – they are fantastic.

On day two I was sitting in the cockpit in the sun, reading a book and thinking how nice the day was, when suddenly the movement of the boat changed. It wasn’t a hugely obvious change, but after living on the boat for so long you tend to become in tune with little variations (even me, with no sailing experience to speak of, can now pick up very subtle changes in the way we are sailing, usually requiring some kind of sail or course alteration). I looked up, and saw the wheel turn full lock to port, then full lock to starboard, and I felt sick as I hollered down to Stu that the auto helm was playing up again. My sick feeling was justified when Stu confirmed that we would have to hand steer as the problem was most likely the fluxgate compass and therefore not something that we could fix on the way like last time. Typically, within an hour or two of starting to hand steer the weather went downhill.

We spent the next three days in rough seas wearing our wet weather gear and unsuccessfully trying to dodge the constant spray coming over the decks. We had managed to stay within sight of Stu’s parents and the steering was made so much easier by using their lights to steer by rather than the compass, particularly on the last night when we decided to push through the tricky navigational part as we hit the channel heading to Noumea, and find an anchorage for the night. This was by far the worst weather of the trip, made so much worse by the fact that we had not been able to sleep for the past 24 hours and were insanely tired. At about 2:00 in the morning we finally found a sheltered bay, dropped anchor, and went to bed – for more than an hour at a time and in a still, quiet boat. Bliss.

Not much to look at, but at the time and with the conditions it was absolute heaven on earth!

The next day we raised the anchor and set off on the last 30 miles to Noumea. This was not without more dramas of course, as we burnt out the anchor winch motor getting the anchor up. This caused a few tense moments and Mr Crabby made an appearance for an hour or so, but day was beautiful and the sailing was quite good, and after a reasonably good night’s sleep and with the thought of getting to Port Moselle marina in a few hours even he wasn’t able to hang around for long!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Slow to update...

Yes, yes - there IS an update coming soon but currently I'm struggling to find a spare 5 minutes where my hands aren't busy with a chocolate croissant, or an eclair, or perhaps a piece of fresh crusty bread topped with a chunk of the creamiest brie ever made...

(as you may have guessed, we made it to Noumea safely...!)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Leaving Fiji - Take 2

Well we didn’t end up leaving today after all. There were a couple of snotty, sneezy, exhausted relapses of colds, and the weather system we had planned to avoid decided to come straight over us so we had a day and night of wind and rain (almost to the point where a light jumper was necessary! Almost…) followed by a day of rain today. So we decided to wait, however we really do have to leave on Friday as we are fast running out of time and we’re conscious of another weather system that seems to be headed our way. While we obviously can’t guarantee a totally smooth run, we can certainly try to find weather windows that will give us the best possible run. We cleared out today which gives us 34 hours before we have to leave, so tomorrow is definitely departure day.

The anchorage is getting crowded with three more boats coming in yesterday. We had a meal with Jim and Mary from one of them and had the usual get-to-know-you discussions. What do you do at home (or what did you do before you retired, lucky long-term cruisers!!)? Jim responded with "Actually, I was a rocket scientist!" We gave a bit of a laugh before we realised that he was serious! Turns out he worked on the Apollo mission! I would have loved to hear more about that - firstly (and mostly) because that's pretty awesome and would be very interesting, but secondly because it would be a conversation that was NOT about boats! Alas Stu was there, and therefore all talk quickly returned to all things nautical...

As I mentioned in my last post we are hoping to arrive in Noumea in about 6 days - the tracker will be on and I hope it works! Fingers crossed for good weather - we are getting further south, and it is winter after all. The weather here is definitely cooler, but still very warm (although wet for the last 2 days) and the sun feels more like the Australian sun. Closer and closer to home :)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Leaving Fiji

We had planned to leave Suva early on Tuesday morning, however we all woke up on Monday morning with varying degrees of sore throat and runny nose so decided that we didn't feel like starting the next leg sick, especially considering that once we leave a port we don't get a good sleep until we get to the next stop, and we all felt exhausted.

Yesterday we checked UGrib - an online weather program that lets us see wind and weather predictions in 3 hour increments for the days ahead, and decided that if we waited another day we would avoid a large low pressure system that would bring rain and 30knots of wind. While we didn't think it would be dangerous we also didn't think it would be particularly comfortable, and with Stu now at the worst stage of his cold we figured we may as well kick back in Suva for another day. An easy decision to make - it's lovely here! We will clear out today and make a move early tomorrow morning (Thursday), heading to Noumea which is about 750 miles away. We're expecting to arrive in about 6 days. At this stage of the trip we're running short on time so will probably have to make Noumea a short stop - 2 or 3 days to have a good sleep and restock with food and diesel - before setting off for Coffs Harbour. How exciting it will be to make landfall on the Australian coast after so long away from home!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Another long-awaited post from Stu

Here we are at Tauberan Island which is commonly known as Fanning Island. Tauberan is the original name that the Gilbertese people used and when the Island was discovered by Westerners it was renamed Fanning Island. In 1916 Fanning Island had its name changed back to Tauberan by the Gilbertese and it was recognised as part of the Northern Line Islands. The Line Islands have three groups  - Pheonix, Northern and Gilbert - and each group has around five islands. Together the area is known as Kiribati (pronounced Kiribus).

Leaving Hawaii was not the easiest as we really enjoyed our time there and had met some great people but the ticking clock is getting louder; we are due back at work in August and hope to meet my parents at Apia in Western Samoa.

We left on a Monday and had 20 knots of wind just forward of the beam for the next seven days, we averaged 130 to 150 nautical miles a day with a part furled headsail there was a large swell running making it a very wet trip and due to the heat the salt caked onto everything including us.

On our eighth day, just before day break, we were thirty nm away from Fanning when the wind picked up and the rain started to fall. In no time we had 45 knots of wind and more rain than Strahan would get in a year. Finding the entrance to English Harbour on the South Western side of the atoll was not easy because you enter through a small channel with large breaking reefs on either side. The difficulty was compounded by poor visibility due to the rain and there was only an outline of the atoll on the chart plotter that did not show the channel or the depths. Just after 9 in the morning we motored through to the anchorage and were guided by a New Zealander as to the best place to anchor.

Fanning Island truly is third world and could not be described as a developing population. They do not have electricity, telephone or internet, and a supply ship arrives every three months and brings only the most basic items like rice and flour. The population is around a thousand and their diet consists of rice, fish, papaya and coconuts. Adults are mainly employed packing copra and the children attend school until they are old enough to work.

The atoll is a ring of land no more than three metres above sea level however it is densely populated with coconut trees that grow up to 27 metres. The climate is very tropical as we are only three degrees north of the equator. Fanning Island is an amazing experience; it is a place where time has stood still.

Pelon has had issues - faulty nav lights, loose rudder, broken non return valve on the hot water service and worst of all a blocked macerator pump on the main toilet holding tank.

Rudder fixed

Hot water Service bypassed

Nav lights improved

Macerator pump – FAIL! We have a 50 litre tank full of our waste that we cannot pump out and if I remove any plumbing from the pump there will be a catastrophic shit explosion due to the pressure in the tank. If you were in a marina you would just use a shore side pump out station to suck it out and then fix the pump. I am still unsure as to how to fix this without disaster. A man called Gunter came over spruiking for work as he funds his cruising by being a fix it man for other boats. I explained our problem and he said ‘Good luck with that’ and left. I guess that we will leave on Saturday and hope (pray) for a suction pump in Samoa.

It is 1300nm, or two-and-a-bit Sydney to Hobart’s, to Apia and we expect it will take about ten days to get there. We are looking forward to reprovisioning and having access to spare parts as we are running out of bailing twine.

At Fanning there are currently 7 boats anchored which seems to be a record as there were only 5 boats visiting during the whole of 2009. We have Swiss, French, German, American and New Zealander neighbours in boats ranging from a home built 30 footer to a mega million dollar GunBoat Catamaran. Everyone is friendly helpful and happy to share excess supplies (we gave bin liners and got our water tanks filled, we gave oranges and were given bananas)

Our stay at Fanning was extended partly by our need to fix things but also due to the people that we met there. We had only been anchored for an hour when dinghies started to visit as other cruisers introduced themselves and the inevitable questions began-

Where have you come from?

How long did it take?

Where are you going?

Bruce and Travis from the big Cat came over and invited us to a “Pot Luck” on the Friday night. A pot luck is when everyone takes a pot of food and something to drink and all the people attending share the different dishes. Kym was concerned that we may struggle with a nice dish as we had finished all our fresh food but answered the call with delicious tuna pasta. Some of the other dishes were a fish curry, olive bread and a really nice meat dish that was not from a can. During the evening we chatted to most of the twenty plus people and soon discovered that the cruiser currency comes mainly from books, DVDs and every day house hold items that are unobtainable unless you travel 2000 kilometres or more. Deals were done, promises were made and the ratty paperbacks were passed over the next few days. I came out quite well with two good books-

A Voyage for Mad Men – about the first round the world single handed yacht race in 1968.

The Measure of a Man – an Auto biography by the actor Sidney Poitier

I gave a book about the Queen’s Birthday Storm that decimated the fleet sailing between New Zealand and Tonga in June 1994 as well as a few other ‘who dunnits’.

We were going to leave on the Saturday so shut the forehead hatches in preparation and the cabin soon started to smell of sewerage... We did not fancy 10 plus days sailing in a boat that smelt like the Werribee treatment plant on a warm day shortly after international Curry week. Within an hour the dreaded shit explosion had occurred and that’s all I want to say about that.

We left Fanning on the Monday and were about 40 nm SW when we were hit by a squall. We began to reef the headsail when the furler jammed leaving the sail half in and half out. The boat was horribly overpowered and all we could do was to drop the main sail which gave us back some control while we fought with the headsail, unable to furl it or let it out which meant we could also not drop it. Fortunately the squall passed and with Kym steering I was able to wrap the sail around the forestay by hand. Unfortunately in the time that it took to do this the foot of the sail shredded itself.

It is amazing how quickly a squall moves and how violently they hit you with wind and rain and then they are gone and you are left bobbing around soaking wet with little or no wind. These squalls are not really dangerous but they are good at identifying weaknesses on the boat.

As dusk turned to dark we considered our position and reluctantly turned back towards Fanning as I did not want to go up the mast in a 6 foot swell, Kym didn’t want to pull me up the mast and I had a vague memory that somebody at Fanning said they had a sewing machine on board. We motored during the night and arrived off Fanning at midnight, which meant waiting until dawn before entering the channel. As the sun shone its first rays we snuck back into the atoll and anchored at our old position.

Phillip from the Catamaran ‘Blue Bie’ called us on the VHF radio and asked what happened? After I told him we had a working party of volunteers from all the boats offering their assistance. Before long the damaged sail was unfurled and Travis from the catamaran Sugar Daddy arrived with his Bosun’s chair saying that he was a rigger and wanted to help. He quickly diagnosed a twisted shredded halyard at the mast head and went up to retrieve it, climbing the 60 foot mast like a spider monkey. While we were at Hawaii I had bought a length of rope long enough to be a spare halyard which Travis spliced into a halyard. Mike from Kia Kaha came over with his sail maker’s sewing machine and in no time the headsail was repaired. The following morning we were fully repaired and we left Fanning again.

1287 nautical miles on a course of 215 degrees True lay Apia, the Capital of Western Samoa. This leg would also mark a major milestone as we would leave the Northern hemisphere and return to the Southern. We did this at local time 1608 on the 15th of May and took a photo of Latitude 00° 00’. We also toasted King Neptune with a drop of Scotch from me, a drop of Gin from Kym and we each threw in a piece of chocolate.



We were nervous about entering Apia harbour because it is between two poorly marked reefs and our depth sounder had drowned on the way from Fanning. It was also raining and foggy making it hard to see the coral heads. Once inside we motored slowly towards the anchorage off Aggie Grey’s Hotel. There is very little information to be had about South Pacific ports and they are generally not charted so you just go slow and hope that your sounder works (bugger). After half a mile I could see a few yacht masts past a point so we turned towards them and found a newly built marina.

The first boat that we saw in the marina was my parent’s boat Ariel. We had made some loose plans a few months earlier that we may meet in Samoa so this was a nice surprise. My parents were living on their boat in the UK and had left Plymouth last August to return to Tasmania via the Canaries, Atlantic, Panama and the Pacific; we had not seen them since March last year.

After tying the boat up and having a shower and brekkie of bacon and eggs the marina electrician came down and said that he could fit a transformer that would step the 220volts on the jetty down to 110volts for our American wired boat. I would not have bothered but the thought of unlimited power and not having to run the engine was hard to pass up. In no time at all he had performed his magic and blown up our battery charger and inverter as well as giving himself a good jolt of 220volts. The damage was confined to our ‘shore power system’ which meant that the boat would still operate ok but there would be no more microwave, charging of laptops or halogen lighting. When I told him that he had wired it the wrong way and wrecked the inverter, he responded in a rapidly deteriorating form of English that he may be able to fix it tomorrow if I removed it from the boat. I think not. Lesson number 34,175,001 learnt - ‘watch out for bodgie electricians’.

We found a really great restaurant opposite the marina and ended up eating there 4 or 5 times. The fish and chips were really good and obviously fresh as the fish was caught fresh by a fisherman who kept his boat in the marina next to ours. Robert Louis Stephenson, the author of Kidnaped, Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, lived the last few years of his life in Samoa up in the hills just behind Apia. His house was restored in the mid 90s by an American Squillionaire who must have been a big fan of the author. The house is now a museum with many of the original features and furnishings returned. It is not only the grandest house in Samoa but also the only house to have an open fire place minus the chimney as it never gets below 25 degrees.

While touring the island in a rental car we were going along a really skinny one- and-a-half lane wide major cross island arterial highway when a speeding truck travelling the opposite direction decided to use the whole road and hit us at 60kmph. Fortunately she only got our side mirror but it came back with such force that it dented the door and scratched the passengers window. Samoa has been in a state of confusion over the last 12 months as they changed from driving on the left hand side of the road to the right. The real advantage to this was that they were able to source cheaper Japanese right hand drive cars direct from Japan as opposed to American left hand drive cars from Pago Pago in American Samoa. Unfortunately the funding must have run out before they had time to alter the road signage and lane markings. After paying $150aud to repair the mirror we decided to continue our touring on foot.



One week after arriving we left again headed for Suva in Fiji - about 5 or 6 days away. It was fairly windy so we only had a small jib up and were still maintaining 8 knots. The wind increased the next day and we reduced sail again. It was wet, bumpy and noisy but the trip was fast and we arrived at Suva harbour at 3 in the morning after a 4-and-a-half day passage. We were told that Fiji had introduced a new entry arrangement for visiting yachts and that we would be required to email 48 hours before entering Fijian waters, which we did from Apia as we do not have email access from the boat at sea. On arrival we were told horror stories that boats which had not emailed may be fined 10,000usd, and that the skippers of two separate yachts had spent the previous 2 days in Suva at the Customs building trying to sort the issue out. We also spoke to another skipper who arrived in Suva from Apia a few days before us. His passage had taken 12 days so we were happy with our time!

Suva is at 18.5 degrees South and it is nice to feel a slightly cooler breeze. For the first time in ages we have a top sheet on the bed and putting on a tee shirt before heading into town is almost bearable.

Our plan is to fix a few things on the boat if we can get the spare parts; here is the current job list:

-Nav lights

-Main toilet macerator pump (I still don’t want to talk about it)

-Deck & steaming lights

-Dinghy motor

- Batteries

Suva is typical of the Pacific Islands in that labour is cheap and parts and supplies are expensive, for example to remove and replace a broken head stud and remove the gearbox to check the impeller as well as a tune up on our dinghy motor was $80 Fijian (about $50AUD), while a small container of parmesan cheese ‘Kraft brand’ was $13 Fijian (about $9AUD).

Initially I had planned to replace all the batteries before leaving California but due to a dwindling bank account and the apparent reliable operation of the existing batteries I did not. Pelon’s batteries consist of two banks that can operate independently or together. After a day or so in Suva it became obvious that the smaller bank was not able to start the engine so we went to the battery shop with the intention of replacing all 6 batteries and were quoted $3200 Fijian. These batteries (Trojan 105 6v) were about $120 USD in California. We then asked the battery supply shop owner to come to the boat and load test all the batteries as they have a combined weight of 200kg and I didn’t fancy ferrying them in by dinghy... The load test revealed that the small bank of two were dead but the other 4 performed as they should therefore we replaced the two 6v start batteries with one huge 12v battery. Everyone at the Suva yacht club was said that the locally made Fijian batteries had a one start life - even the taxi driver who took us to the shop said don’t buy Fijian - so we ended up with Eveready.

The Fijian people are really nice and very helpful. The marine shop opened especially to fix our motor even though it was a long weekend, people often say hello in the street and say if a restaurant is good or not; most are Indian and vary in quality. After eating at a small Fijian Indian restaurant it pays to remember one of life’s earliest cruel lessons ‘never trust a fart’.

We will leave tomorrow for New Caledonia with most of our jobs fixed. We have still not been able to get an impeller for the front toilet but the aft one is working fine. Our Nav lights really need re-wiring as corrosion has crept right through the circuit so we will continue to use our emergency battery operated spares. The deck light has a blown bulb that we cannot replace in Fiji and the Steaming light has been ripped off the mast by a loose halyard and will need to be replaced. Pelon will still be well illuminated via the anchor light and the portable nav lights. We expect it will take about 6 days to reach Port Moselle in Noumea.

Sorry about 6 weeks’ worth of blog in the one post but internet access has been sketchy to say the least.
Cheers Stu.

Saturday 12th June 2010

We went in to town to pick up an engraved plaque that we need for the boat. After much haggling yesterday Stu and the shop assistant worked out a price for the plaque, which had to be 400mm x 150mm, with letters a certain height. The assistant proudly produced the finished item when we arrived – and it was about half the size we had requested and had the wrong lettering. “Sorry sir – my Father said that for the size you wanted we had to charge more, so this is all you get for the price I quoted”. Of course that went down like a lead balloon because everyone had been very clear yesterday about what was needed and the price that was agreed on. The shop closed in 3 hours and apparently there wasn’t enough time to do another plaque – although if we wanted him to do what we asked for we had to pay more anyway. The assistant kept going on about how the material had been wasted because we wouldn’t take it, and we kept pointing out that it was his fault it was wrong and we didn’t want to pay for his mistake. It went back and forth until finally he rang his Father, who didn’t appear to be very impressed with the whole situation and, when the phone was passed to Stu, definitely wasn’t impressed with the situation telling Stu in no uncertain terms that we had to take the offending item or pay more to get the new one done. The other issue was that they couldn’t do the new one until Tuesday when they reopened after a long weekend, which didn’t suit us as we are leaving before then. The 20 minute discussion between Stu, the assistant and the Father eventually ended when we were told (with a satisfactory smirk) that if we wanted our money back we had to call to Police. Fine, we said, you call them. The smirk disappeared briefly before he realized that he could just say no, which he did. We left with him and his mate chuckling behind us. He also looked very satisfied when we walked back in 5 minutes later, obviously (in his mind) to give in and pay the extra. The satisfied look was quickly wiped away, however, when we were followed 2 seconds later by the Police Officer we had met on the street! Suddenly it was all just a big mistake, and the assistant was more than happy to make a new plaque by Tuesday. Again we pointed out that we could not wait until Tuesday, so suddenly it would be ready just before closing time today at the originally agreed price. Amazing what can be accomplished when someone of authority is on your side. I can guarantee that the assistant never imagined that we would call his bluff! Unfortunately when we went back to pick it up we were told that he hadn’t done it because he had run out of materials but he would gladly give us our deposit back. We were sure that a shop would not totally run out of stock in 2 hours (particularly given we were the only customers…) and figure that was just his departing blow – telling us at closing time that he couldn’t do it, therefore all other engraving shops were also closed and we couldn’t go elsewhere. Or maybe he still had hopes that we would agree to buy the original plaque. Either way we got our deposit back. I’m sure he thought he’d won because he didn’t have to make the new one for us, but we thought we’d won because we got our deposit back and weren’t out of pocket, so I suppose in the end everyone was satisfied and you can’t really ask for a better outcome than that! We’ll just have to chase it up in Noumea now.

Wednesday 9th June 2010

Suva is great. The Fijians are so welcoming and most go out of their way to help. We have spent some time wandering around Suva, looking in shops and markets and eating well! While we haven’t had any traditional Fijian food we have had our fair share of curries (from the Fijian Indian population) and the food is good and cheap. The restaurant at the yacht club serves meals for $7 or $8 Fiji dollars (around $5 AUD) and the bar prices are straight from the 70’s. Actually, the whole yacht club appears to be straight from the 70’s, including some of its patrons, but it has a very relaxed feeling about it and we are really enjoying a few sundowners each evening while sitting at the bar, followed by a feed at the restaurant.

Taxis are very cheap and very easy to catch – we haven’t had to wait more than a minute to get a ride in to town. The safety of the cars is questionable, stopping at red lights is apparently optional and the music (usually traditional Indian music) is blaring but for $1 or $2 (AUD) we won’t complain!

We have done some re-provisioning in preparation for our next leg to Noumea and have found that the supermarkets are very expensive! As with most places if you buy local it is a lot cheaper than buying imported goods, and of course being an island the transport costs of imported goods bump up the price considerably. Unfortunately for us the feed that we require is mostly imported as we need tinned and long-life food so we’ve had to be fairly selective and have not bought a lot of the things we had hoped to. As examples, a tin of Heinz baked beans is about $4 and a small container of parmesan cheese is around $9, as is a block of Cadbury’s chocolate and a bag of pasta (AUD). It was Stu’s birthday yesterday and as a much longed for treat I bought him a small box of Darrell Lea chocolates and a packet of Tim Tams. Let’s just say that for what I paid for both would keep us in Tim Tams for months at home (ignoring the fact that we don’t buy Tim Tams at home…!!!). But it was a birthday treat that was enjoyed immensely – this is the first place that chocolate has been any good. It tastes normal!

Monday 7th June 2010

Clearance day! Finally, we can go ashore! Then at 9:00am we watched a cruise ship come in and we knew that we would be second priority. Sure enough, the government officials came over at about 4:00pm and seemed in no rush. Three of them spent a lot of time talking to each other about our stuff while the Customs guy got us to fill in a pile of forms. I wouldn’t have thought clearing a yacht would involve reading a couple of pages of my book, picking up my i-phone to take a look and generally commenting on our belongings, but apparently that’s the way they do it in Suva…and when you’re desperate to get ashore you don’t rock the boat!!! Half an hour later we were processed and cleared to go ashore. By this time shops were shutting so we had a couple of drinks at the yacht club before heading to the restaurant for a much needed meal of chicken, beef and veggies.

Sunday 6th June 2010

Another day on the boat… We once again headed over to Ariel laden down with the few remaining food items to make a respectable meal (pasta, again… I hope I never see it again once we’re home!). We’re running low on food, particularly good food, so have to combine our resources in order to create a decent meal. We’re desperate to go ashore and buy some fruit and veg, and Stu is dying for a steak. With no fridge we can’t carry a lot of things, but meat is the one thing Stu really misses. I can take it or leave it – I’m more than happy with meatless meals or tinned tuna – but Stu is a red meat man and by the time we get to a port he’s ready to sink his teeth in to the nearest cow.

Saturday 5th June 2010

Another non-eventful passage. Somewhere along the way we crossed the internationl date line and went from being 21 hours behind home (in Samoa) to 2 hours ahead of home (in Fiji), and lost a day altogether. We motored in to Suva Harbour, Fiji, at about 6:00am and anchored off the Royal Suva Yacht Club. Calling Part Control we discovered that the relevant government offices are not open on the weekend, therefore we had to stay on the boat until they could come out and clear us on Monday. The prospect of 2 days stuck on the boat was not a pleasant one, although it did give us an enforced rest period – we are always so tired after a passage but tend to run around madly trying to get things done. Stu’s parents arrived about 6 hours later and anchored nearby – close enough that Stu could swim across when he had a case of cabin fever on our boat and needed to get off. I wasn’t keen to swim in the harbor water, thinking too much about things in the water. Not so much the sharks and giant squid (although that is totally feasible of course), but the grot from years of yachts emptying their holding tanks and the rubbish and much thrown and pumped overboard from the Japanese long-liner fishing boats.

Ahhh, the fishing boats. There is a massive fleet here – about 10 fishing boats and one ‘mother ship’ which gets loaded up and then returns to Japan with another arriving to take its place. These boats used to come to Hobart but left once the costs started to rise and they began receiving some bad publicity. This was the best thing that could have happened, as we have heard that they fish in an area until their catch rate gets down to 2 fish per 1000 hooks. We’re not 100% convinced that this is number is fact, but it is reasonably common knowledge that they do over-fish and leave the ocean quite barren before moving on to the next area. We met a guy from Alaska who had seen their catch log in the Custom’s office (no such thing as secure filing here – the files are stacked up in the visitor waiting area!) and he said that they were regularly recording 70,000 tonne catches. And there were hundreds of these folders sitting there. On top of that we have seen the crew carelessly throwing their rubbish over the side, and the ships are forever pumping something in to the water. We just hope the Fijian Islands aren’t totally destroyed, and are thankful that the fleet no longer comes to Australia.

Stu decided to tempt fate, and the wrath of Customs and Immigration, by bringing his parents dinghy over to pick me up from our boat. There were definitely benefits to heading over to Ariel (their boat) for the afternoon - a more comfortable cockpit, an electric toilet (as opposed to ours which has to be manually pumped) and a much more exciting food selection due to having refrigeration topped the list. We enjoyed some company and some food with flavor before heading back to Pelon after tea.

Just to taunt us, Chuck (from Alaska) came past in his dinghy to inform us that he was heading to the yacht club for the free roast pork and beer they were providing to celebrate the opening of a new bar area. Of all the nights to be stuck on the boat… Thanks Chuck…!!


Plastiki arrived in Apia a couple of days after us.

Plastiki is a catamaran made out of plastic bottles, sailing from San Francisco to Sydney to raise awareness of plastic in the world’s oceans. Plastiki is the brainchild of David De Rothschild and it is very evident when talking to him that he is extremely passionate about plastic issues!

This greenhouse setup was supposed to supply the crew with fresh veggies throughout the trip! Bliss!
However once they hit the tropics they found that itwas using way too much of ther fresh water and so it had to be abandoned.

The hull consists of thousands of recycled plastic bottles
(obviously after extensive testing to test the deterioration so that they don't sink... mildly concerning that it doesn't deteriorate, isn't it!!)

I could go on about it more, but to save those who aren’t interested (although how could you NOT be, with a bike-powered generator and a cabin made from cashew and bees wax!!) here is their website:

We had read that they left San Francisco around the time we left California and we were hoping to see them along the way. We met a couple of the crew and planned to take a look over the boat, but typically by the time we gave them space to do some repairs they had left the boat and left Apia to explore Samoa with family members who had flown in. So unfortunately we didn’t get to look over Plastiki – it would have been interesting.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Saturday 29th May 2010

We have decided to leave Samoa tomorrow, headed for Suva in Fiji. It is Independence Day in Samoa on Tuesday and while it would be interesting to see the celebrations everything will be closed from this afternoon until Wednesday morning. We don’t have the time to wait here for another 3 or 4 days so we cleared customs yesterday (all of the Government offices are closed on the weekend) which gives us 48 hours to leave.

Another boat arrived today and as luck would have it, it was Richard, who we met in Hawaii. He had a friend who joined him on the leg from Honolulu to Palmyra Atoll and then through to Samoa, which would have been wonderful after doing the California to Hawaii leg single handed. It was great to see him – we thought that we had missed him but would perhaps catch him in Fiji so this was a nice surprise. We enjoyed catching up and sharing stories over a few drinks. He’ll stay in Samoa for a few days and then continue on single handed to Suva, where we may well see him again.

We will have our tracker on but after our last effort we're not expecting it to work... The trip to Suva is only about 650 miles so we should arrive in about 5 or 6 days (wind dependant of course - fingers crossed for no doldrums!). We will cross the date line on this leg so will finally be on the same day as Australia - getting closer and closer to home!

Thursday 27th May 2010

We hired a car today to go to Robert Louis Stevenson’s house and to explore the island a bit. An interesting experience as Western Samoa has only recently started driving on the left side of the road, so we were driving on the left, in a left-hand-drive vehicle, with the arrows on the road still pointing the old (and therefore wrong) direction! That made for a few interesting moments!

Robert Louis Stevenson’s house was great – a really nice place, and we could understand why he chose to come here and to build and live in such a nice place when he was sick and dying. Some say it was asthma, some say TB; I think the latter was true. He was buried on top of the mountain next to his house. Quite a trek and not one to do in thongs and without a supply of water so unfortunately we didn’t go up there, but the house was good to see and the grounds were also pretty speccy.
Note the fireplace - the first in Samoa! But never lit due to the heat, and also due to the fact that there was no chimney. It was purely for decoration, to make RLS and his guests feel at home.

RLS study

Dining / Ballroom

Perfect spot for a quiet gin and tonic on a hot day...

Statue symbolising the end of cannibalism in Samoa!

Every day, two people were selected for the honour of being the Chief's dinner.
One day the Chief's son decided he felt sorry for two of the men and set them free, binding himself in their place to be presented to the Chief.
On seeing his son (who was still alive at this stage) the Chief decided to end cannibalism and they started feasting on fish instead.

We continued our drive through to the other side of the island. A pretty drive on very skinny roads – so skinny that when a truck came past us in the opposite direction too fast we didn’t have anywhere to go and it swiped the passenger side mirror. What a fright! Luckily they pulled over and we got their details, although the passenger was madly beeping the horn and telling the driver to get back in the car. We always pay extra to get full cover on our rental vehicles and this was no exception, however on return to the rental place we discovered that they had never heard of paying extra to drop the excess so, if we were to go through insurance, it would cost us 3000tala (around $1500 AUD)! Hang on, we said – it wasn’t our fault so won’t the other driver pay? Oh absolutely, but here in Samoa we pay the bill and then go and visit the other driver who will apparently pay us back. And if they don’t cooperate we take a Police officer with us. What a palaver! It turned out, however, that a brand new mirror was only about $150 AUD so we paid that and should be able to claim it back on our personal travel insurance. We didn’t like our chances of tracking down this other driver ( we had a phone number and rego plate) let alone getting the money from her, particularly as her husband was so keen for her to leave the scene of the accident and just drive off.

After that bit of excitement we continued around the island passing through lots of little villages. It seems that they are made up of a group of houses and a couple of communal open-air buildings, plus a small shop of sorts, and not much else. It also appeared that there were a lot of people having a snooze in these communal buildings and not a lot else was going on... We also noticed that the houses had graves in their front yard, most complete with massive tombstones and some with shelter structures built over them and masses of flowers covering them. Some were enormous, and some houses had 3 or 4 of them. Rather than bury family members in the local cemetery, most locals opt to bury them in their front yard. It’s never dull to see how people in other cultures live!